You already know that a perfect diet doesn't exist, but many of us still can't resist the urge to kick ourselves when we indulge, eat too much, or get thrown off course from restrictive diets. The problem: This only makes it more difficult, stressful, and downright impossible to lose weight. So rather than beating yourself up for eating foods you think you shouldn't, let it go. Treating yourself to about 200 calories worth of deliciousness each day — something that feels indulgent to you — can help you stay on track for the long haul, so allow yourself to eat, breathe, and indulge. Food should be joyful, not agonizing!
If the diet is a quick fix rather than one that promotes lasting lifestyle changes, this could pose a problem. In particular, extreme diets that promise big weight loss up front aren’t always sustainable — and you may end up overeating or even binge eating if you feel deprived. “Consider if the diet’s habits are ones you can continue throughout your lifetime, not just 21 or 30 days,” says Angie Asche, RD, a sports dietitian in Lincoln, Nebraska.
When it comes to all things weight loss, the simplest, fastest way to make impactful, lasting change is to form habits you can actually stick with for life. That’s why this plan involves an easy-to-follow meal planning guide. This full week of (delicious!) food will take the guesswork out of grocery shopping and prepping with nutritionist-approved breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas. If you have a higher activity level, check out these 1,300-, 1,400-, 1,500-, and 1,800-calorie meal plans as well.
“There are many diet plans on the market today that promote good health,” says Emily Kyle, RDN, who is in private practice in Rochester, New York. “The key is finding one that does not cause you stress or agony.” Ask yourself questions such as: Would the diet guidelines make you happy? Anxious? Stressed? Are you able to follow them long term? “Factors such as enjoyment, flexibility, and longevity should be strongly considered,” adds Kyle.
"Stop focusing on calories and start focusing on the quality of the foods you eat. High-quality diet options are natural, whole, minimally processed foods, like vegetables, fruits, nuts or seeds that offer a lot more nutritional value in the form of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fiber. These foods help tame hunger naturally and nourish our cells at the deepest level so that we aren't left with constant cravings. — Michelle Loy, MPH, MS, CSSD, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Go Wellness in Orange County, California
“Don't like eating meat?” asks Ginger Hultin, RDN, a dietitian in private practice in Seattle and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Then don't be paleo! Travel a lot and rely on eating out? The DASH diet may end in frustration for you.” The bottom line: The diet you choose needs to be safe and effective, while taking into account your lifestyle.
"Don't skip breakfast—it really is the most important meal of the day. Eat breakfast within 90 minutes of waking, and then have something healthy to eat every three to four hours after that. When we skip breakfast or wait too long to eat in the morning, our bodies start to conserve energy and our metabolism slows down. Skipping breakfast also leads to overeating throughout the day." — Ilyse Schapiro, MS, RD, CDN, author of Should I Scoop Out My Bagel?
With this eating style, you’re looking at a lot of menu planning and preparation. A review published in August 2017 in Nutrients suggests the diet could lead to weight loss, but the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics warns the plan could also cause certain nutrient deficiencies, such as in calcium and vitamin D. (3,4) And, therefore, according to an article published in the January–February 2016 issue of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, anyone at risk for osteoporosis should avoid it. (5)
“This is a great way of eating that I highly recommend to many clients, and I even model in my own life,” says Elizabeth Shaw, RDN, who is in private practice in San Diego and is the co-author of Fertility Foods Cookbook. “Since the premise of the diet is designed to help people who have high blood pressure, low-sodium foods are recommended. But considering that most Americans exceed their daily sodium levels anyway, it’s not surprising that dietitians recommend this style of eating for treating many different conditions, such as heart disease and obesity.”
Another healthy change that will help you look better is to cut back on salt. Sodium causes your body to hold onto excess water, so eating a high-salt diet means you’re likely storing more water weight than necessary. If you’re in a rush to lose weight fast, cut out added salt as much as possible. That means keep ditching the salt shaker and avoiding processed and packaged foods, where added salt is pretty much inevitable.
If you don’t have an established exercise routine, “walking is a pretty good entry point for people,” says Gagliardi. One small study published in The Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry found that obese women who did a walking program for 50-70 minutes three days per week for 12 weeks significantly slashed their visceral fat compared to a sedentary control group.
There are many ways to do intermittent fasting — ranging from fasting for a number of hours each day up to an entire 24-hour fasting period one or two times a week. “If you're trying to kick a habit like eating late into the night, then stopping eating earlier in the evening and fasting overnight could be beneficial for you,” says Hultin. “There are many types of intermittent fasting, so ensuring you pick one that works for you and your lifestyle is important.”
In practice, this means salt is substituted with herbs and spices. There are two models: the Standard Model, which recommends less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, and the Low Sodium Model, which recommends less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Studies suggest DASH is also good for preventing osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Even if you do meet your goal, it's nearly impossible to keep off the weight over the long term: "The amount of restriction required [to maintain that number] will make you so hungry that you’ll eat everything in sight—it’s survival instinct," Dr. Seltzer says. And since calorie restriction gradually slows your metabolism, your body will be less prepared to burn the foods you binge on, he adds. That could mean gaining more pounds than you lost in the first place.
"When going out for fast food, I used to get the large-size value meal. Now, I satisfy a craving by ordering just one item: a small order of fries or a six-piece box of chicken nuggets. So far, I've shaved off 16 pounds in seven weeks, and I'm on track to being thinner than my high school self for my 10-year reunion later this year." —Miranda Jarrell, Birmingham, AL
Popularized by the documentary Forks Over Knives, the Ornish diet is a low-fat, plant-based diet plan based on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. It's based on a lacto-ovo style of vegetarianism, allowing only egg whites and nonfat dairy products. It's packed with vitamins, fiber, and lots of filling plants to keep you satiated. Some studies have shown it can reverse heart disease and have beneficial effects on other chronic health conditions. (BTW, there is a difference between a vegan diet and a plant-based diet.)